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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Founding of “The Freeman’s Journal”

the-freemans-journalThe Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.

In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).

The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.

The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.

The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.

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Birth of Forrest Reid, Novelist & Critic

forrest-reidForrest Reid, novelist, literary critic and translator, is born in Belfast on June 24, 1875. He is, along with Hugh Walpole and J. M. Barrie, a leading pre-war novelist of boyhood. He is still acclaimed as the greatest of Ulster novelists and is recognised with the award of the 1944 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Young Tom.

Reid is the youngest son of a Protestant family of twelve, six of whom survive. His mother, his father’s second wife, comes from an aristocratic Shropshire family. Although proud of this ancestry, he finds the strict Protestant ethics of his immediate family constricting. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, after which he is initially apprenticed into the Belfast tea-trade before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he reads medieval and modern languages, and is influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster. His first book, The Kingdom of Twilight, is published in 1904. Following graduation in 1908, he returns to Belfast to pursue a writing career.

As well as his fiction, Reid also translates poems from the Greek Anthology. His study of the work of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Study, has been acclaimed as one of the best critical studies of that poet. He also writes the definitive work on the English woodcut artists of the 1860s, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). His collection of original illustrations from that time is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Reid is a close friend of Walter de la Mare, whom he first meets in 1913, and about whose fiction he publishes a perceptive book in 1929. He is also an influence on novelist Stephen Gilbert, and has good connections to the Bloomsbury Group of writers. He is a founding member of the Imperial Art League (later the Artists League of Great Britain) and is also a close friend of Arthur Greeves, the artist known to be C. S. Lewis‘s best friend. Greeves paints several portraits of Reid, now all in the possession of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Reid publishes articles in many magazines, including Uladh, The Westminster Review and the Ulster Review, and he reviews books for The Manchester Guardian. Apostate, an autobiography, is published in 1926, and its sequel, Private Road, is published in 1940. He is a founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Forrest Reid dies on January 4, 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Though Reid’s books are not necessarily well known today, he has been labelled “the first Ulster novelist of European stature,” and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness (1912), and James Joyce‘s seminal novel of growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914). Reid’s fiction, which often uses submerged narratives to explore male beauty and love, can be placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature in the 20th century.

A ‘Forrest Reid Collection’ is held at the University of Exeter, consisting of first editions of all Reid’s works and books about him. Many of his original manuscripts are in the archives of the Belfast Central Library. In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast catalogues a large collection of Forrest Reid documentary material including many letters from E. M. Forster.

In 1952 Forster travels to Belfast to unveil a plaque commemorating Forrest Reid’s life at 13 Ormiston Crescent.


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Birth of James Joyce, Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet

james-joyceJames Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, is born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin on February 2, 1882. He contributes to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century.

Joyce is one of the ten children of Mary Jane “May” Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. He attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries mean they can no longer afford to send him there. He is temporarily home-schooled and spends a short time at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood is influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 is a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defend Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr. Casey, crying loudly with a “sob of pain,” “Poor Parnell! … My dead king!”

Joyce attends University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studies modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he goes to Paris with an intent of studying medicine but discovers, on arrival, that he does not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggles for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.

Joyce returns to Ireland in 1903 after his mother falls ill. She dies in August 1903. He refuses to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later feels is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On June 16, 1904, he meets Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spends the rest of his life. By autumn, he is convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuades Nora to travel with him. They arrive in Paris on October 9, 1904. He would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivates a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zürich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 is the poetry collection Chamber Music. When he sends Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranges for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but is also published in 1914.

Joyce then begins work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel is serialised between 1918 and 1920, but full publication is delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work is finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles is first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

On January 11, 1941, Joyce undergoes surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He falls into a coma the following day. He awakes at 2:00 AM on January 13, 1941, and asks a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They are en-route when he dies 15 minutes later, less than a month short of his 59th birthday. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.


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The Execution of Rory O’Connor

rory-o-connorRory O’Connor, Irish republican revolutionary, is executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922 in reprisal for the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of Irish Free State member of parliament Sean Hales.

O’Connor is born in Kildare Street, Dublin on November 28, 1883. He is educated at St. Mary’s College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and his close friend Kevin O’Higgins, the man who later condemns him to death.

In 1910 O’Connor takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in University College Dublin, then known as the National University. He goes to work as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moves to Canada, where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles of railroad.

After his return to Ireland, O’Connor becomes involved in Irish nationalist politics, joins the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) O’Connor is made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers.

O’Connor does not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State and abolishes the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he and his comrades had sworn to uphold. On March 26, 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin in which they reject the Treaty compromise and repudiate the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament. Asked by a journalist if this means they are proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “you can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor, with 200 other hardline anti-treaty IRA men under his command, takes over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting breaks out.

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped JJ “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shells the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor surrenders after two days of fighting and is arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, three other republicans captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA’s killing of Free State member of parliament Sean Hales. The execution order is given by Kevin O’Higgins, who less than a year earlier had appointed O’Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness of the division that the Treaty has caused. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.


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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.